A Simple Restoration Of An Inherited BBB “Thorneycroft” # 637 Sandblast Billiard

Blog by Paresh Deshpande

I love my classic shaped pipes and one such pipe from my inheritance is now on my work table. It’s a classic tapered stem Billiard with a deep scraggy sandblasted stummel. The moment I picked it up, I knew this could be a Barling’s “Fossil” or some English brand. The sandblast, quality of the stem and the briar all oozed quality. The stem logo of BBB in brass rhombus did bring an inadvertent smile on my face. I love this brand and have a few BBBs in my collection.

The pipe is a classic Billiard shaped sitter with deep craggy sandblast that feels tactile in the hand. It has a medium sized bowl and is very light in weight. This pipe is stamped on the bottom smooth surface of the shank with shape code #637 at the foot followed by “BBB” in a rhombus with “OWN MAKE” on either side in block capital letters. Further towards the shank end on the same smooth surface, it is stamped as “THORNEYCROFT” over “LONDON ENGLAND”. The high quality vulcanite tapered stem bears the trademark inlaid BBB brass diamond logo on the upper surface of the stem. The stampings are all crisp and clear.  If you are interested to know anything about BBB pipes, look no further than rebornpipes.com!! This is Steve’s favorite brand and he has been researching and collecting BBB pipes for decades. I visited rebornpipes and sure enough there was a write up on “History of BBB Pipes”! Here is the link to the blog (https://rebornpipes.com/2012/08/05/history-of-bbb-pipes/).

I had worked on a BBB 2 Star “SPECIAL” pipe and had extensively read about the brand and its various lines through the years which also helped in dating BBB pipes. Here is the link to the write up with a request to the esteemed Readers to refer to the write up for detailed information on the brand and dating of BBB pipes (Restoring a 2 Star BBB “Special” # 395 | rebornpipes).

The information reproduced below places the pipe to be made between 1950 and 1960.
During the middle of 1950s and 1960s, BBB lines were comparatively stable. The top pipes of the line were stamped Own Make “Rare Grain”, followed by Own Make “Virgin”, Own Make “Walnut” and finally Own Make “Thorneycroft”.

Armed with the above information, I moved ahead with initial inspection of the pipe…

Initial Visual Inspection
The deeply sandblasted saddle stem sitter is covered in dirt, dust and grime. There is a thick layer of cake in the chamber and the mortise shows accumulation of dried old oils and tars. The tapered vulcanite stem is heavily oxidized and the bite zone is peppered with minor tooth chatter on both the surfaces. There are a few deep bite marks on either surface in the bite zone with what appears to be a cracked button edge on the lower surface. Here is how the pipe appears as it sits on my work table. Detailed Inspection Of The Pipe And Observations
The bowl is nicely rounded with a chamber depth of about 2 inches. The chamber has a layer of thick cake that is slightly thicker in the bottom half of the chamber. The sandblasted rim top surface has worn out (or not?) and now appears shallow blasted/smooth in most places. The inner and outer rim is in pristine condition, save for suspected minor darkening of the inner edge in 1 o’clock direction. The condition of the inner walls of the chamber can be commented upon after the cake has been taken down to the bare briar. The chamber has strong smells from the old tobaccos. The draught hole is in center at the bottom of the chamber with a nice wide open airway and this makes me believe that it should smoke smooth to the last morsel of tobacco in the chamber. The stummel, all around appears solid to the touch and hence I do not foresee any serious damage to the walls in the form of burnout/ deep heat fissures/ lines or pits. I may have to resort to the salt and alcohol treatment of the chamber if the ghost smells do not reduce after the cake has been removed and the shank internals are thoroughly cleaned.The crevices in the sandblasted surface are filled with dust, dirt and grime from all the years of smoking and storage. The fact that the grooved patterns are dusty and filled with dirt is accentuated more due to the brown and black hues on the stummel and the shank. The briar looks lifeless and bone dry and has taken on dirty grey hues. The mortise shows accumulation of oils, tars and gunk and the air flow is not full and smooth. I need to be careful while cleaning the shank bottom surface to preserve the stampings on this pipe. Thorough cleaning and rising under warm water of the stummel surface should highlight the grain patterns, depth and cragginess of the sandblast. The high quality straight vulcanite stem is so heavily oxidized that it appears brownish green in color. Some minor tooth chatter and deep bite marks are seen on both surfaces of the stem in the bite zone along with minor calcium deposits. This issue should not be a major headache to address. The lip edge on both sides has minor bite marks and would need to be reconstructed and reshaped. A crack across the button edge on the lower surface is seen (encircled in pastel blue) and would need to be addressed. The tenon has accumulated ash and oils/ tars that have dried out on the inside as well as on the outside. The horizontal slot has tar deposits which will have to be cleaned. The tooth chatter and the bite marks will be raised to the surface by heating and the deeper tooth indentations will be filled using charcoal and CA superglue mix.The Process
I started the restoration of this pipe by first reaming the chamber with size 1, 2 and 3 Castleford reamer heads. I further scraped the chamber walls with my fabricated knife to remove the remaining carbon deposits. Once the cake was reamed back to the bare briar, I used a 150 grit sand paper followed by 220 grit sand paper to remove all the traces of remaining cake and also to smooth out the inner walls of the chamber surface. Finally, to remove the residual carbon dust, I wiped the chamber with a cotton pad wetted with 99.9% pure isopropyl alcohol. The chamber walls are sans any damage. The smells from the chamber are greatly reduced and would be completely eliminated once the shank internals are thoroughly cleaned.This was followed by cleaning the mortise pipe cleaners and shank brush dipped in isopropyl alcohol. I scraped the walls of the mortise with my fabricated knife to remove the dried oils and tars. Though this further eliminated trace of old smells from previous usage, I will continue further cleaning of the shank internals while cleaning the external surface of the stummel. Next, I moved to clean the exterior of the stummel. I generously applied “Briar Cleaner”, a product that has been developed by my friend Mark Hoover, to the external surface of the bowl and the sandblasted rim top surface. It works similar to Murphy’s oil soap and needs to be applied to the stummel surface and set aside for 5-10 minutes. The product pulls out all the dirt and grime to the surface making further cleaning easy. I am quite happy with this product. I used a hard bristled tooth brush to scrub the stummel and rim top with the solution. After the scrub with Briar cleaner solution, I washed the stummel under running warm water with anti oil dish washing detergent till the stummel surface was clean and dried it using paper towels and a soft cotton cloth. I deliberately cleaned the sandblasted rim top with hard bristled toothbrush and set the stummel aside to dry out naturally. I simultaneously cleaned the shank internals with the detergent and hard bristled shank brush. The stummel surface has cleaned up nicely with the intricate sandblast patterns on full display. The shank internals too are nice and clean. The brown hues of the raised portions of the sandblast contrast beautifully with the black of the rest of the stummel. These brown hues will darken considerably once the stummel briar is rehydrated and rejuvenated using the balm and subsequent wax polishing. The rim top surface has cleaned up nicely to reveal pristine inner and outer rim edges, though lighter in color as compared with the rest of the stummel surface. The ghost smells are completely eliminated at this stage. I began the stem repairs by first cleaning the internals of the stem with bristled pipe cleaners and 99.9% pure isopropyl alcohol. I scraped out the dried oils and tars from the tenon end with my fabricated knife and also removed the calcified deposits from the bite zone. I followed it up by sanding the entire stem with a folded piece of 220 grit sand paper to remove the surface oxidation. It has been our (Abha and my) experience that sanding a stem before dunking it in to the deoxidizer solution helps in bringing the deep seated oxidation to the surface which in turn makes further cleaning a breeze with fantastic results.I dropped the stem in to “Before and After Deoxidizer” solution developed by my friend Mark Hoover. The solution helps to draw out heavy oxidation to the surface, making it’s further removal a breeze, while the minor oxidation is eliminated to a very great extent. The initial sanding helps to draw out the complete oxidation as the sanding opens up the stem surface that has been initially covered with oxidation. I usually dunk stems of 4-5 pipes that are in-line for restoration and this pipe is marked by a yellow arrow. I generally allow the stems to soak in this solution overnight to do its work.The next morning, Abha removed the stems that had been soaking in the deoxidizer solution overnight. She cleaned the stem and the stem airway under running warm water and scrubbed the raised oxidation from the stem surface using a Scotch Brite pad and the airway with a thin shank brush. She further removed the oxidation by scrubbing the stem with 0000 grade steel wool and applied a little EVO to rehydrate the stem. This now gives a clearer picture of the extent of crack as can be seen in the pictures below. These will definitely require a fill.I used a 220 grit sand paper to sand the stem and remove all the oxidation that was raised to the surface. This step further reduced the tooth chatter and bite marks present on the stem. I wiped the stem with Murphy’s Oil soap on a cotton swab. This helps in cleaning the stem surface while removing the loosened oxidation. Using a lighter, I flamed the surface of the stem. This helped in raising some of the tooth chatter and bite marks to the surface as vulcanite has a property to regain it’s original shape on heating. I addressed the crack over the lower button and the button edges by filling them up with a mix of activated charcoal and CA superglue. I applied a slightly thick layer over the lip which I will later sanded down to create a defined edge. Once I had applied the mix, I set it aside to cure overnight. My apologies for bungling on taking pictures, but the readers will get a picture of the process in general. While the stem repairs were curing, I rubbed generous quantity of “Before and After Restoration Balm” in to the stummel surface with my finger tips, working it deep into the sandblasts and let it rest for a few minutes. I rubbed the balm into the sandblasted rim top surface too. The balm almost immediately works it’s magic and the briar now has a vibrant appearance with the beautiful sandblast patterns displayed in their complete splendor. The contrast of the dark browns of the raised sandblast with the dark black of the rest of the stummel adds an interesting dimension to the appearance of the stummel. I further buffed it with a horse hair brush. As I was taking close up pictures of the stummel, I observed a webbing of very minute heat lines to the front of the chamber wall (indicated by yellow arrows). Though not an issue if the pipe is smoked gently, it may lead to a burnout subsequently in the hands of an enthusiastic smoker. I shall give a thin protective bowl coating of yogurt and activated charcoal. This will firstly prevent the burning tobacco coming in direct contact with the briar and secondly aid in faster cake build up.  I addressed this issue by mixing activated charcoal and plain yogurt to a thicker consistency, just enough that it would spread easily and applied it evenly all along the chamber walls after inserting a folded pipe cleaner through the draught hole to keep it open. Once dry and set, this will not only protect the walls but also aid in faster buildup of cake.With the stummel rejuvenation almost complete, save for the final wax polish, I worked the stem. The fill had cured and with a flat head needle file, I worked on the filling till I had achieved a rough match with the surrounding surface and had sufficiently sharpened the button edges. For a better blending, I further sanded the entire stem with 220 followed by 400, 600 and 800 grit sand papers. This helps to reduce the scratch marks left behind by the more abrasive 220 grit paper. To bring a deep shine to the vulcanite stem, I went through the complete set of micromesh pads, wet sanding with 1500 to 2000 grit sandpapers and dry sanding with 3200 to 12000 grit pads. I wiped the stem with moist cloth after each pad and rubbed it down with Extra Virgin Olive oil to rejuvenate the vulcanite. The finished stem is shown below.To complete the restoration, I mounted a cotton cloth buffing wheel on to my hand held rotary tool and applied several coats of carnauba wax. I finished the restoration by giving the entire pipe a rigorous hand buffing using a microfiber cloth to raise the shine further and remove any residual wax from in between the sandblasts. The finished pipe looks amazingly beautiful and is now ready for its long second innings with me. I only wish it could share with me the stories of its past years while I enjoy smoking my favorite Virginia blend in it or maybe just keep admiring it !! The finished pipe is as shown below. P.S. – A few weeks earlier, there was another pipe that I had restored (WALLY FRANK Ltd “BLACKTHORNE”) and one which required a bowl coat of activated charcoal and yogurt. It was while I coated the chamber walls of this pipe that I coated the walls of the chamber of BLACKTHORNE pipe to protect them by helping in a speedy formation of cake. Apologies for the missing pictures though…

I wish to thank each one for sparing their valuable time to read through this write up and praying for the health and safety of you and your loved ones. Stay home…stay safe!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.